Most energy systems are extremely inefficient, but flexible thermoelectric generators could recover some of that lost energy and put it back into the system.
If we’ve ever seen steam billowing from a cooling tower or felt the hot exhaust coming from an automobile, what we’ve really been seeing is lost energy. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, conventional automobiles lose about 60% to heat alone.
Thermoelectric generators could use that heat energy to generate electricity. When there is a temperature differential, sometimes as little as just 1°F from one side of the material to the other, an electrical charge is generated. In the case of automobiles, thermoelectric generators connected to the exhaust system have been able to generate as much as 600W.
Part of the problem with current thermoelectric generators is their construction, handmade from toxic materials. This makes them expensive and hard to implement, since they need to made for the specific task in order to generate electricity at any appreciable efficiency.
Modern 3D printing techniques though, have resulted in thinfilm thermoelectric generator material that is easy to produce and doesn’t contain any toxic materials. The new material is also flexible enough to attach to line the inside of a cooling tower, possibly even wrap an exhaust pipe or anything else that generates heat.